This came up in another question here - we had a little debate about the efficacy of crunches vs planks, etc.

So, in short, what is the best way to train your abs without risking your spine too much and while relying on the abs (rather than the hip flexors) for the majority of the movement?

What's the progression? Let's say you got to the point where crunches and planks are a joke. What then?

What is a good test of abdominal strength?

P.S. I was sure someone asked this question before, but I can't find it.

  • Unhelpful comment: Don't. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 14:00
  • @CCCV: As in don't isolate?
    – VSO
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 14:13
  • 2
    Yes. Instead of isolating your "abs", train your squat and deadlift using proper spinal extension supported by the Valsalva breath. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 15:19
  • 1
    @CCCV - That would make a good answer if you could elaborate on why it is recommended. Comments are subject to deletion at any time.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 20:42
  • @CCCV please review this video and consider it when making this recommendation in future, that (new) myth has been fairly well busted: youtube.com/watch?v=_xdOuqokcm4
    – John
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 11:48

2 Answers 2


Hollow Holds, Hollow rocks, weighted hollow holds/rocks (a backpack or dumbell dangling on you feet by example). Failure is when you are unable to keep your lower back in contact with the ground. https://youtu.be/Ln4P4WQ7EWU

Holds: One legged L-Sit, Tuck L-Sit, L-Sit, V-Sit, Manna (the gymnastic move) . On the floor, paralettes, and parallel bars. https://youtu.be/GbZeD4q_cSE

Knee raises, Toe raises, Toes to bar, Toes to bar with ankle weights (all strict, no swing). You can make them in a circle instead of just up and down to target the obliques too

Front Lever work you abs pretty well too (in addition to your lats, your back, your and glutes)

Dragon Flags, Human Flags

  • 1
    Hollow holds are the best thing ever. It's actually the one thing I find useful for proper spinal alignment. I can do all the gymnastics moves you listed in your second paragraph - I feel like they are what contributed to my overly-strong hip flexors, so not sure how I feel about them or any form of leg lift. I can't do a front level - think the issue is shoulder strength, stopped training them like 2 years ago.
    – VSO
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 12:47

I'm going to jump to the conclusion here that when you say "abs", you mean the core musculature in its entirety.

While Pancake's answer is good, it does only address part the story.

The core musculature does have several functions, flexion (as in a crunch), anti-flexion (when you brace such as in a squat or deadlift), extension (superman style exercise), anti-extension (a plank exercise), lateral flexion (side bends), anti lateral-flexion (1 arm farmers walks / suitcase carries), rotation (cable core rotation thing) and anti-rotation (Pallof press).

Now arguably, it's the anti exercises that are more important for proper spinal alignment and health than the flexion / extension exercises, as in life you're more likely to need to brace yourself against forces through your core than the opposite (picking up shopping from the floor, lifting children (preferably yours) overhead, holding a door for someone), though I have also read from some highly regarded strength coaches that flexion type exercises help lubricate and provide nutrients to the spine.

What I think pretty much all coaches agree on is that there's little point in doing thousands of crunches a day in pursuit of a six pack. Though I don't have time to search for it at the moment, from memory the rectus abdominis (six pack muscle) is made up from roughly equal parts fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibres, so it's a good idea to mix up heavy, strength based crunch style exercises with more endurance type ones.

Basically, work everything, but don't go too nuts in any single direction.

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